Darts is the ultimate pressure sport. Matches can be won or lost in just one dart, and when you’re on the oche alone, in front of a crowd hundreds strong all wanting you to miss, you certainly feel the heat.
Pressure comes in varying forms. It can build up over the course of a match as the opponent fills up the treble twenty bed, it can be piled on by the crowd by chanting for the opponent or starting the dreaded boos but the biggest type of pressure however, is often the value of the dart. The dart that wins the match is always the hardest dart to throw.
Pressure is evidently a huge influence in sport in general. It is far harder to deal with pressure when a player steps up on his own. Penalties in football, conversions in rugby and free throws in basketball all create more pressure than open play. The difference in darts is that this pressure is constant. There is no rest bite for a player and this is exacerbated if the player is up against it in the match. However, if a player is so far behind in a match that they are on the edge of defeat, suddenly all pressure is lifted. And often the opposite is felt by the leader in the match. Again it’s the last leg that’s the hardest to finish off. The more they miss, the harder it becomes and the more the gap is closed by the opponent, the more the pressure builds. This is the very reason why comebacks are remarkably common in the game of darts.
You would imagine that experience helps combat the influence of pressure, however, I have never seen a player play without any pressure. Phil Taylor, James Wade and Michael Van Gerwen, in my opinion, deal with pressure the best. James Wade, the weaker of the three, seems to win close games over and over again.
When you look at the players that are labelled talented or gifted that have never fulfilled their potential, it’s often their failure to deal with pressure and nerves that exists as their downfall. Gary Anderson, Dave Chisnall and Vincent van der Voort all have one thing in common. They struggle with their doubles. 180’s and 140’s never seem to be an issue but when they get down to the double and the pressure is on, they crack.
The World Grand Prix game between James Wade and Gary Anderson, is a prime example of a player dealing with pressure and the other simply capitulating once the heat is turned up. Anderson set off like a train, nailing the double start and winning six legs in a row to storm to a two set advantage in a race to four. Wade got one back, but Anderson, in the next set, managed to re-establish his two set lead, to go within one set of the World Grand Prix Final. The pressure factor then hit. Anderson could not get going. He lost his rhythm by trying to force his darts into the intended targets. James Wade, in stark contrast, dealt superbly with the pressure and levelled the match at three sets a piece. It became a one set shoot out for a place in the final. Four legs later it was still a level game. Now a one leg shoot out. Anderson simply could not get into the leg, missing several darts at the required opening double. Wade on the other hand hit his double with his first dart, held his nerve throughout the leg and, yep you guessed it, hit the winning double to secure his place in the final. In the match overall, it would be fair to say Anderson was the better player, but Wade was the victor due to his ability to deal with pressure.
Here are some examples of players rising to the challenge.
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